PAUL THE TEACHER: ROMANS
Much can be learned about teaching the Bible by studying the Epistle to the Romans--a letter Paul wrote to the church at Rome. Even though he is not standing before them in person, Paul effectively engages people with only the written word. Observing his teaching style gives us a biblical basis for many approaches we might already use, as well as giving us some new ideas.
The sixteen chapters of Romans can be broken down into three main sections, each of which is characterized by a different teaching style. This is interesting because we know that different people learn best from different teaching styles. Some teachers use certain styles more naturally than others.
In chapters 1-8, Paul uses logical development of ideas, outlining basic premises, explaining them, building a strong case on them, and going on to draw logical conclusions. He is appealing to the mind, to the intellect.
In chapters 9-11, Paul uses personal references and examples of which his audience is knowledgeable about. He identifies himself with Israel, his kinsmen, and appeals to their mutual concern for their fellow Israelites. He talks about Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, and Moses. He talks about how God worked in their lives. He is appealing to the heart, to emotions, to feelings.
In chapters 12-16, Paul stresses the practical application of correct doctrine, giving examples of how doctrinal truth works out in real-life situations. He ends with many personal comments about people in the church. His down-to-earth teaching is about everyday life. He appeals to common sense.
If Bible teaching is always kept on the intellectual level, without personal challenge and application, Christianity becomes dry and boring. If it is always kept at the emotional level, without engaging the intellect, Christianity becomes shallow. If it is always kept at the level of daily activities, without encouraging study, thinking, and care for others, it can become about what we do--about works, about us.
Is any one style best? No, but we may be better at one style than another. We can learn to blend various approaches as Paul does.
Besides these three stylistic divisions of Romans, Paul also uses different teaching techniques throughout the book, which we will look at. The most prominent is his use of questions, a technique he uses mostly in the first two sections (1-11).
Why are questions such an effective teaching technique? They are not as confrontational as direct statements. They engage the person's mind, so that he is not merely a spectator or part of an "audience." They encourage him to think, rather than just to accept blindly what is being told to him. Ideas that you discover for yourself are more meaningful and better retained and assimilated than ideas handed to you or pushed on you by someone else. You don't just "rent" them--you "own" them.
Jesus also used questions to teach. In the Gospel accounts of Jesus, we are told the actual response (or lack of answer) to His questions, as the conversation unfolds. In Romans, being an epistle or letter, we only read Paul's words. He still desires to engage the other person in the "conversation." In effect, the reader of the letter would pause after a question, to give it some thought or formulate his own answer. As Paul then goes on, he often answers the question himself. Perhaps the answer is so obvious that he doesn't need to supply it. Or he may leave the reader to draw his own conclusion to a rhetorical question. Rhetorical questions encourage the reader to become more of a participant in this "virtual conversation."
If your teaching situation is more a lecture than a discussion, you might make use of rhetorical questions to keep your class involved. If you want actual responses, you might want to design your questions to lead toward the answer you have in mind. Questions that are too open-ended can leave the class wondering or floundering. "What do we know about Jesus?" is too broad of a question, but "What do we know about Jesus from verse 14?" is a leading question. You could just tell the class what it says about Jesus in verse 14, but having them look at their Bibles, read it, digest it and come up with an answer helps them to learn more effectively because their minds are more engaged.
There are many ways to formulate questions, depending on how much or little your group needs spoon-fed. For example, take Romans 5:12. Asking "How did death enter the world?" is pretty simple; they can repeat the exact words of the verse, "through sin." If you ask, "Who is the one man?" they have to think a little more, since the answer, "Adam," isn't stated in the verse. A more difficult and thought-provoking question might be "What does this verse teach about the creation/evolution controversy?" Many study guides fall into the trap of always asking questions that can be answered by repeating a word or phrase from the verse. This does not teach the student to think, but only to parrot back something quite obvious. Ask a question whose answer is obvious from the verse, but can't be answered by repeating part of the verse. Get the students to look at the verse, think about what it is saying, and then formulate an answer in their own words.
If no one comes up with an answer, instead of telling them the answer, you could ask more questions to help them see the answer for themselves. "Aren't fossils supposed to be the evidence for evolution?" "What are fossils?" (dead animals) "According to evolution, did man or animals come first?" "Did animals die before man evolved?" "So if evolution is true, can this verse be true?" "Can both evolution and this verse be true?" "If this verse is not true, can the rest of the Bible be true?"
This sequence of questions and answers would be more conducive to learning than if you just said, "This verse disproves evolution." If your group understands that the Bible is true and trustworthy, their thinking is going to be challenged. You could now get into a discussion on the accuracy of the Bible or on creation vs. evolution. Some teachers would not want to do either of those things, preferring to continue on with the teaching on original sin.
Personally, I like to veer off the main trail onto these "rabbit trails" when they come up, not caring if we digress far from the main text. I feel that the purpose of Bible study is to study the Bible, not merely to cover a particular set of verses, or to follow a time-table set out in the curriculum. Taking the time to see how this passage relates to creation and to Christ's substitutionary death to remove the death penalty for Adam's sin enriches the study of this verse and this section of Romans. Your class will get a better handle on the Bible as a whole, seeing how it fits together, how it interprets itself when we compare Scripture with Scripture, and how it relates to current issues-important goals of a Bible teacher.
Here is a list of rhetorical questions found in Romans. Study them to get a better idea of how to use questions with your class.
Another teaching technique that Paul uses is quoting Scripture as his authority. At that time, the written Word of God consisted of the Old Testament. Sometimes Paul quotes entire verses or passages; sometimes he just refers to a passage without directly quoting it, because he knows his audience is familiar with the passage. In 9:20-21, he alludes to Isaiah 64:8 and Jeremiah 18:6 but does not quote them. In 16:20 he alludes to Genesis 3:15. He uses direct quotes in 1:17 and 3:10-18. Paul obviously knows his Scriptures very well and bases his teaching on God's Word.
We should constantly use the Bible to teach the Bible. Looking up another passage can explain your verse or shed more light on it. It reinforces the concept you are teaching. It shows that this concept is taught consistently throughout the Bible. It helps your class to get more familiar with their Bibles as they flip back and forth. Overheads can be handy but, if overused, can keep people from becoming handy with their Bibles. If they look it up, they may even want to underline it or make a note in their margin. Overheads don't encourage people to mark up their Bibles, note the context, compare notes they may have in their margins, or check to see that the teacher didn't take the verse out of context.
Now let's go through Romans and notice some of Paul's techniques and use of language that we can apply to our teaching to be more effective.
Paul points out that the creation itself is an object lesson from God. It is available for all to see and consider. It reveals enough information about God that everyone who has seen it is now accountable to God for a certain basic amount of knowledge and what they choose to do with that knowledge. God could have chosen to only reveal information about Himself through the Bible or through His Son Jesus Christ, but then many would not hear. God has created the most effective visual aid possible; the visual impact of creation is universally accessible and extremely powerful. No one can truthfully claim that they did not know about God.
The early church was made up of both Jewish believers and Gentile (non-Jewish) believers. These two groups had different backgrounds and different kinds of misconceptions about Christianity that Paul needed to address in his various letters. Here he speaks directly to his Jewish readers to get their attention. A good way to get your class's attention is to momentarily talk directly to a particular person or sub-set of the group (boys, girls, marrieds, singles, stay-at-home moms, working moms, farmers, etc.). Talk about a situation with which this person or these people in particular are familiar.
We are warned to be careful not to get into futile speculation. Stick to the Bible. We find this warning elsewhere in the Bible. Apparently it is a common pitfall.
Paul uses Adam as a "type" of Christ. A type is something that is a picture of something else which is the main thing. The type helps to explain the main thing, as does a metaphor, a simile, an allegory, or a parable. All these are used by various Bible writers to teach more effectively--using something already familiar to the listener to compare to a concept that might not be as clear to him. Paul is not able to use "visuals" in his written presentation, but he uses language to create "virtual visuals."
In high school or college we were often asked to compare and contrast on essay tests. Here Paul compares and contrasts: Adam and Christ, the transgression and the free gift of grace/righteousness, disobedience and obedience, the Law and grace, the act of one and the effect on many, death and life, condemnation and justification. It is as if he is putting up a chart with two columns--again, creating a "visual" for the reader. Comparing shows similarities; contrasting shows differences.
Outrageous claims will get people's attention. As Paul builds his case logically, he has been teaching about grace. He just told them that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (5:20). He anticipates that someone will then reason that therefore it is good to increase sin. It is possible that he brings this up because some in the church were actually taking this approach to sin. Similarly, today we find that some Christians take a flippant view of sin because, oh well, all they have to do is confess it and they will be forgiven. Paul expresses his horror that such an attitude could exist in the mind of the true believer. If we understand what God did for us, and what Christ did for us, how could we be so crass?
"Reckon" [consider, NASB] is an accounting term in the original Greek. Doing math or accounting used to be referred to as "reckoning" or "figuring." So Paul creates the mental image of an accounting ledger, with a column for Debits (debts) and a column for Credits. By comparison, he creates the mental image of God as the accountant, and God's accounting sheet, with a column for Death and a column for Life. He says we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin, even though in actuality our old nature will not be disabled until "this mortal shall have put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:54). Even though we still sin, and our names ought to be in the Death column, God writes us in the Life column because Christ died to sin on our behalf.
Slavery was an accepted part of Roman society, as it was throughout human history until just recently. It was somewhat different than our concept of slavery in the American South; it was more like what we would call indentured servants. People could sell themselves into slavery if they could not pay a debt; they could also buy their way back out of slavery. Paul likens us to slaves, and our master may be either sin/death/lawlessness or God/grace/life/righteousness. Unlike human slaves, we can choose our master.
Many people are upset by biblical references to slavery, assuming that because the Bible does not condemn it, it therefore approves it. On this basis, some even dismiss the whole Bible. The Bible is not a book of social or political reform, but of spiritual reform. The Roman Empire was as corrupt or more corrupt than modern governments, but we never find Jesus, Paul or Peter telling people to refuse to submit to this corrupt government or to try to change the government. On the contrary, believers are told to submit to authority, for the institution of government, and indeed all authority (including slave masters), is from God, Romans 13:1-7.
Paul talks about not rebelling against one's situation, and gives instructions on how a Christian can live in a way that is pleasing to God in whatever situation he is in. He talks about the common relationships: husband/wife, parent/child, and master/slave, which we can apply to employer/employee or teacher/pupil (Ephesians 5:22-6:9, Colossians 3:1-4:1).
In each of these situations, no matter what the problems are, God has lessons for us to learn as we submit to God. Many slaves and slave-owners became believers; Paul points out in Galatians 3:28 that actually this distinction evaporates before God, and they are on equal footing spiritually. Believing slave-owners were to treat their slaves right and would be accountable to God for their actions, as will all believers. And believing slaves were not commanded to seek their freedom, although if they had the chance, they were to take it (I Corinthians 7:21-24). All were to think of themselves as Christ's slaves (servants who have been bought with a price).
"For as…" and "even so…" is another way of making a comparison. Paul is contrasting their actions in the past to what their present actions should be. We can also look at this as a "link." Particularly with children, we can use links to move back and forth from our story or example to the spiritual truths we want to teach. Telling a story without relating it to spiritual truth is ineffective; teaching spiritual truth without tying it to a story can make it too abstract for a child to understand. The Bible is full of examples of how to combine the two.
Everyone understands the concept of wages--what you have earned in exchange for your work. Paul uses this common example from everyday life to help his readers understand how sin results in death. Then he contrasts wages with a free gift, and death with life. Many Christians, especially those who have been "raised in the church," have trouble talking about biblical truths in everyday language that unbelievers can relate to. Paul demonstrates over and over how to do this effectively.
Paul uses an illustration that his readers can easily understand and relate to--the laws on marriage and how they change following the death of a spouse. By beginning verse 4 with "wherefore," Paul shows that he is relating what he is about to say, back to the illustration he just gave. He is explaining that we are not to be joined to both Christ and the Law at the same time; that first relationship must be terminated so that we may enter the new relationship.
Personification is another one of those figures of speech we learned about in high school English. An inanimate object or concept is given human attributes. We can use this technique to help capture our class's attention, or to spice up our presentation with a little humor. Here Paul speaks of sin as if it is someone who could deceive and even kill you. You could have your children draw a humorous picture of this verse. This image could make the concept more real to them and cement it into their memories. The more of your student's senses you can appeal to, the more chance they will retain what they learn. This is why TV is so attractive; it appeals with images, actions, and sounds. Writers know that appealing to all five senses will draw the reader in more than if they simply narrate. Use this principle in your teaching when appropriate.
Paul shares a personal experience from his own life in order to illustrate the struggle between the sin nature and the new nature--a new concept to the early church. In so doing, he goes out on a limb by revealing his own weakness, something we often shrink from doing. Does this passage cause us to doubt Paul was really a Christian, or cause us to think less of him? Rather, it encourages us to know that we are not alone in this struggle. All Christians face this struggle. Now we know that struggling with our sinful desires does not mean we are unsaved or unspiritual. We also know that there is hope, even though we feel despair. Because Paul has had the courage to share his story, we can identify with him as someone with the same weaknesses we have, rather than wrongly putting him on a pedestal.
After sharing his personal story, Paul sums up the point of his story by giving us the principle. A story without a clear application isn't effective as a teaching tool; a principle without an illustration may remain unclear.
Again Paul uses the technique of contrasting two opposing concepts: the law of the Spirit of life and the law of sin and death, the Law and the Spirit, those who are according to the Spirit and those who are according to the flesh, the mind set on the flesh and the mind set on the Spirit, those who are in the flesh and those who are in the Spirit, those who live according to the flesh and those who are led by the Spirit. Notice the various words he uses to set up this contrast: therefore, for, so that, but, because, however, if, so then.
Here Paul refers to us as God's children. In the Bible God has revealed Himself to us in several roles, all of which we can understand because of our earthly relationships. One is Father/child. We have all been children, and we all understand the concept of a father and the parent/child relationship. This can be especially useful when talking to children. (Other roles are King/subject, Shepherd/sheep, Bridegroom/bride, Vine/branch, Potter/clay.)
Now Paul clarifies that we are actually adopted children. Adoption is another human relationship that helps us to picture how we become God's children. This concept can be especially effective when talking with children who have been adopted. Adopted children may have feelings of resentment to their biological parents who they may look at as having abandoned them. Here is a chance to show them that instead, unlike most children, they have parents that actually chose them, just as God chose us who believe to be His children.
Specifics have more impact than generalities. Instead of listing all these things that cannot separate us from God, Paul could have just said, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God." Would that have as much impact? Also, in this list, many of us can find things we personally relate to when we have doubts. In your teaching, use specific examples that your group can relate to.
Emotionalism should never be a substitute for solid Bible teaching, but neither should emotions be denigrated. God made us with emotions and tells us to love Him with our heart, our soul and our might (Deuteronomy 4:5). Paul shares his emotions, opening the middle section of his letter with a statement that certainly grabbed his readers' attention: he has "great heaviness and continual sorrow." He appeals to their empathy; they will want to read on and find out what has made their beloved Paul feel this way.
Using the stories of real people to illustrate a point is a good way to keep your class's attention. Here, Paul uses people his readers are familiar with. Talking about the experiences of real people helps your class to relate to them and shows them how God works in the lives of real people.
This illustration is not only a reference back to the Old Testament, but also shows the use of humor--of the ridiculous--to grab the reader's attention. The image of this clay pot speaking is humorous in itself. But the fact that its words are so outrageous and arrogant add even more to the humor, to bring home the point. Some think it is disrespectful to make jokes about spiritual truths, but God Himself is the author of humor, and uses humor throughout the Bible. You could ask your class to draw a picture illustrating these verses. Kids might enjoy creating a brief skit of this ridiculous scene for the enjoyment of the rest of the class.
Paul personifies righteousness, giving it the ability to speak, asking if Righteousness would say this or that. Again, Paul uses humor, because everyone knows righteousness is not something that can speak or ask questions.
Logical development of points is always a good teaching method. Using only this technique would be dry and boring, but we see how Paul uses great variety in his teaching to keep his readers' attention and interest. Listing or outlining your points on a blackboard, overhead, or handout can help your class keep your main points in mind.
This verse is interesting in several ways. We see Paul using Scripture (for his readers, the Old Testament) to make his point. We also see him telling them only part of the original quote; he leaves them hanging, probably asking themselves, "Who is this talking about? Whose voice? Whose words?" Hopefully this would cause them to look up the passage (Psalm 19:4) for themselves and read the entire passage in context (19:1-6). We can find the passage by checking the cross-references in our margin notes. And if they do look it up, they again find the use of personification. Here the speaker is "the heavens" (Psalm 19:1). Not heaven, where God dwells, but the sky--outer space, the universe. The idea of the heavens actually speaking appeals to the reader's imagination and creates a memorable image.
What is the point Paul is making in this verse? He is answering his own rhetorical question: what about those who have never heard? This question is a big stumbling block to many today, both believers and unbelievers. Many feel God is unfair to judge those who have never heard His message. Paul powerfully answers this question by pointing out that everyone has heard. In Romans 1:20 he tells that the creation gives enough information about God to make every single person accountable to God. All are without excuse, because they all have heard about God. They may not have heard about Jesus or the Bible, but what have they done with that knowledge they do have? Has anyone lived up to the amount of light they have been given? Paul answered that back in 3:9-18.
Paul asks his readers what the Bible says. Ask your class, "Who remembers the verse about…?" or "Who can finish the verse that starts…?" Particularly create opportunities to bring up verses or passages recently studied and relate them to what you are studying today. This solidifies their memory of those verses, without having to say, "Okay, now we're going to have a review," followed by a groan from your group. Dividing into teams and making it a contest would add to the fun. It also reinforces the idea that everything has to do with something else, that the Bible fits together like puzzle pieces.
Paul follows this question with another question about Scripture. "And then what did God say to him?" Instead of reading the verse to your class or telling them what it is about, ask them. This will reinforce the concept of looking to the Bible, not to the teacher, for answers. It will give them a reason to bring their Bibles, to open them, to turn to the passage you are in, and to follow along. Anything you can do to help familiarize your group with their own Bibles is good. When you ask them to turn to another passage, help them by telling them it's more toward the front or back, and which book it's after or before. Wait to read until everyone has found the place.
The point just made in 11:7 is reinforced by quoting Scripture to back it up and explain it further. This cannot be emphasized enough. The best way to teach the Bible is to use more of the Bible. This develops the habit of asking, "What else does the Bible say about this?" Cross-referencing is an excellent way to study the Bible and become more familiar with it at the same time. It builds our confidence that this is what the Bible is truly saying, that we are not taking something out of context, building a doctrine from one verse, or misunderstanding what is being said.
Just as earlier Paul addressed certain remarks to his Jewish readers in the church at Rome, now he addresses another group, his Gentile readers. Earlier he identified with the Jews he addressed, because he himself was a Jew; now he also identifies himself with these Gentiles, pointing out that he is an apostle to the Gentiles. You can find ways to identify with the people in your class, which helps your teaching ring true with them. You might make reference to "those of us who have lost someone close," "those of us who have juggled family and work," "those of us who came out of a rough background," "those of us who grew up in the church," etc. Even if you cannot identify yourself with someone's experience, draw on what you know about different members to get their unique perspective.
Even a lowly lump of bread dough can help us picture biblical truths. In Paul's day, everyone baked bread. Find common examples from today's life to illustrate your lesson. If someone in your class volunteers an example, use it and ask them to expand on it if they can.
Another analogy is from gardening. Just as in Paul's day olive trees were common, today many people grow at least something--a lawn, trees, shrubs, a vegetable garden, flowers, houseplants. Paul likens the Jews and Gentiles to branches on an olive tree. He talks about God grafting and pruning the tree. Life is full of examples of spiritual principles; in fact, God probably purposely built them into our lives so that we could understand Him better.
Paul ends this middle section of his letter by pointing them to God's wisdom and sovereignty. It's easy to become focused on ourselves--my spiritual life, my growth, my problems--me, me, me. The Bible is about knowing God, and we as teachers need to keep that focus. Always bring it back to God. If you are discussing difficult concepts like Paul has been, you can always sum things up in a positive way by using these verses to close. We get hung up on wanting to understand everything, but even if we don't understand, we can be thankful that God is so big and so far above us that we can't understand everything about Him. That can be a positive thought, not a negative one, if you present it this way.
Sacrifices are not part of our worship today, but in Paul's day they were well-known. He uses the picture of a sacrifice to explain to them how we are to offer ourselves to God. He is not telling them to lay their bodies on a physical altar; he is pointing to the concept of spiritual sacrifice. But to those people who actually laid animals on an altar, this must have created a powerful image in their minds. Find ways to use physical concepts to picture spiritual truth.
In this third section of Romans, Paul addresses specific behavior of believers in the church. Now he speaks directly to their actions and attitudes--what we could call "exhortation." He has just told them in 12:2 to do God's will. Here he lists some specifics about God's will. Some people think you should ask God what His will is for each decision you make in daily life, or at least for the bigger decisions (if indeed there is even a way to distinguish "big" decisions from "unimportant" decisions). The Bible does not teach that God has a blueprint-type will that we need to "discover" about such decisions; it presents God's will as what we are told that God wants us to do or not to do--principles of right behavior. Romans 12 is chock-full of teaching on God's will. It's not something we need to discover or pray about. We are simply to do it.
The concept of authority is personified as someone who can praise you, who is a minister of God, who is an avenger, and who bears a sword. Bearing the sword refers to the power to put to death. Capital punishment rightly belongs to government, which is a God-ordained authority, ever since Noah came off the ark (Genesis 9:5-6).
Paul uses the physical to picture the spiritual. He has been speaking of our obligations to the government as well as to all others. He moves from paying what we owe to the contrasting idea that there is one debt we can never fully pay. He moves from the idea of fulfilling man's law to fulfilling God's law. Relate spiritual concepts to things that everyone can understand.
Is Paul talking about literal sleep--about what hour we wake up in the morning? Of course not. Sometimes "sleep" is used in the New Testament to refer to death, and sometimes to spiritual lethargy. If the context isn't clear, check Strong's Concordance. "Sleep" here means spiritual torpor (inactivity, insensibility, sluggishness, stagnation, apathy, lethargy). Paul is talking to Christians who are guilty of this attitude. He paints a picture of a Christian who has overslept and who groggily glances at the clock. The hands are almost pointing to the time when the Lord will return--the day of the Lord. Rather than groaning sleepily that we don't want to wake up just yet, we should jump out of bed, realizing how late it is, and hurry about what we ought to be doing while there is still a little time.
Now he uses a similar picture: night and day, darkness and light, things that characterize the darkness and things that characterize the light.
How do you "put on" the Lord Jesus Christ? "Put on" is a reference to clothing. So Jesus is being likened to our clothing. Is this a biblical concept? In Job 29:14, righteousness is compared to a robe. What are the priests clothed with in Psalm 132:9? In Isaiah 61:10, what is he clothed in? Now compare the New Testament, Galatians 3:27. All believers have been clothed with Christ and have the indwelling Holy Spirit. But we must also constantly choose to clothe ourselves in Him if we don't want to give in to our sin nature. Here Paul says we are to do something, to make a choice. And what will this clothing protect us from? This sounds like another way of saying what Paul talked about in the second half of Romans 7. This interesting visual helps us to understand how to live the Christian life.
Paul gives a principle in 14:1, then gives specific examples so his readers can understand how to apply this principle. He gives two examples: Christians having different ideas about whether or not they can eat meat, and Christians having different ideas about whether they should still observe the Jewish Sabbath and feast days.
Remember that the early church was a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Jewish Christians in particular struggled with legalism, feeling obligated to continue keeping the Law. The Gentiles did not feel obligated to keep the Law, and possibly flaunted their freedom to the Jewish believers, accusing them of legalism. The Jewish believers were probably judgmental of the Gentile believers, thinking they could not possibly be as spiritual as Jewish believers who were not only trusting Christ but also keeping the Law. There were two distinct camps within the early church.
Are these divisive issues in our churches today? Not for most people. Today the issues might be the style of music in the church or for personal enjoyment, or what is acceptable dress and entertainment for the Christian. But the principle is the same, as is the struggle with legalism and with passing judgment on those who feel differently than we do. We need to follow Paul's example in dealing with issues in the church and in Christian culture, always taking it back to biblical principles.
In both chapters 13 and 14, Paul is probably addressing particular problems in the church at Rome that have been reported to him. He doesn't sidestep the problems but addresses them head-on. Might he step on some of his readers' toes by doing so? Yes. Should he avoid talking about the problems and just focus on love and unity? Divisive problems destroy unity. Unity can only exist when we are all in agreement. Agreement can only come from a common acceptance of biblical teaching--correct doctrine. Today it is common to hear that doctrine divides, but actually, correct doctrine unites.
Paul isn't wishy-washy. He sums up his scolding and his explanations by calling for a specific response from his readers. He confronts both groups--in 8, the Jewish believers ("the circumcision"), and in 9, the Gentile believers. Paul does not shrink from confrontation when necessary to correct wrong behavior or wrong doctrine. His response is not based on personal bias or emotional reaction but on Scripture, 9-12. Always be able to back up your position with Scripture.
Paul has a common-sense approach to group psychology. After scolding and admonishing, he turns right around and compliments them on what they are doing right. His teaching is always balanced.
Not all behavior in the church is acceptable. Paul's brand of Christianity is not "I'm okay, you're okay." Not only are some things not okay--some behavior and some people must be confronted. Not just by Paul, not just by an offended individual (elsewhere we find guidelines for individuals confronting individuals), but by the church as a group. Paul warns them not to be deceived and not to be naïve (unsuspecting). Those were both common problems among early Christians and still are today.
Christians try to think good of other people--to be loving, accepting and forgiving--and can end up falling into this trap. Some think Bible teaching should only be positive and "feel-good" but Paul demonstrates that it should also warn against wrong teachings and problem people--not just evil in the world, but problem people within church circles. He not only warns that this situation might arise, but he also requires some action on their part: church discipline. Church discipline is unpleasant so many churches refuse to follow biblical guidelines in this area. But Paul doesn't allow his readers to follow a "feel-good" faith.
This is one of the hard responsibilities of being a teacher: knowing when and how to address difficult issues. If a "certain person" is present, we are tempted to soft-pedal something scriptural so as not to step on toes or not to end up feeling uncomfortable, but that is not Paul's way. If you are studying through a Scripture passage and a verse or teaching comes up that you know will offend someone present, or several people, or even the whole group, do you skip over that verse or white-wash it? Is that being diplomatic or cowardly? Are you paralyzed with fear because you think someone will assume you are pointing your remarks at them? Are you more concerned with what certain people think of you or with whether or not God is pleased with how you handled His Word? Might God be wanting to use you to be the means by which that person or those people hear what they need to hear from God's Word? These are issues that may come up when you teach God's Word.
Romans and the Wordless Book
If you have ever used the Wordless Book as a teaching tool with children, you might notice a parallel between it and the book of Romans. In the Wordless Book, you first have the Gold Page: God is the Creator, He loves you, He is holy. Then the Black or Dark Page: what sin is, the fact that we are sinners, that sin separates us from God. The Red Page: Jesus is God's Son, took our sin upon Himself and shed His blood (the substitutionary atonement), died and rose again. The White or Clean Page: we believe, we receive Him, we have salvation, we are clean in His eyes. The Green Page: we grow in our Christian life, we now have power to do right even though we continue to struggle with sin. This is exactly the same logical progression we find in Romans, expanded with detailed theological explanations, examples, and scriptural cross-references.
Copyright 2012 Jan Young
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